I knew that making fougasse, the technical bake from Botanicals Week in the Great British Bake Off, wasn’t going to be easy. I’ve never been great at making bread of any sort and, after the disastrous baguette I made during the last Bake Off, I was tempted to give up completely. I think perhaps I should have.
I used the recipe for my fougasse from BBC Food . The first step was to put strong white flour, fine salt and instant yeast into a bowl. Here was my first question: What’s fine salt? I could see that it would be different to, say, the sea salt that comes snowflake size out of the packet, but was it different to table salt? I didn’t have time for a trip to the supermarket anyway, so table salt had to do.
I added olive oil and, as per the recipe, three-quarters of the recipe amount of water. I mixed it with the KitchenAid on slow (you don’t very often see the Bake Off contestants making bread in a mixer I know, but the recipe said use a mixer and I was more than happy to comply).
Now, here’s where I think I went wrong. According to the recipe, when the ingredients start to come together you add the rest of the water very slowly, crank up the mixer to medium speed and mix for eight minutes. My mixture came together so I started to add the water. I realised that I wasn’t completely sure how I should do this. I don’t think of myself as a particularly stupid person, and I know what slowly means, but in a dough-making situation I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do. Should I add the water in one slow stream, or add it gradually and make sure that it was all absorbed into the dough? I decided to go with the first option. It fitted the recipe best. Here’s what I ended up with. Not particularly promising.
I turned up the speed on the KitchenAid and mixed for the required eight minutes. At that stage, the dough should have been very elastic and it should have stretched away from the side of the bowl. It didn’t. It took a lot longer than eight minutes to get anywhere near elastic, and it was still really, really wet. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I mix longer? Should I add some flour? Should I trust the recipe and use the wet, sloppy mess that I had, and hope that it would improve with proving?
I gave the dough a few more minutes in the KitchenAid (it must have had at least fifteen in the end), then mixed in some rosemary and thyme – the recipe also called for fresh sage, but I hadn’t been able to find any. I put the mixture into two plastic containers to prove. I wasn’t supposed to use two containers, but the Bake Off contestants had been given one large square one and I didn’t have one big enough. OK I do have plastic bowls that are big enough, but I thought that the shape might be important. I left the dough to prove until it had doubled in size. This was much longer than the hour stipulated in the recipe. It always is.
When I came back to it, I dusted the work surface with flour (I was supposed to use semolina as well, but the stuff in the cupboard that I thought was semolina turned out to be polenta, and I wasn’t sure that it would work). The dough ran out of the containers onto the surface. The recipe said that it would be “quite loose and flowing” at this point, so I didn’t despair as the lava-like mass spread out onto my work surface. At least I tried not to. I just about managed to divide it into two and, using a lot of flour, managed to make two oval-ish shapes which I put onto baking trays that I’d lined with baking paper. The next step was to make cuts in the dough so that it resembled a leaf. My dough wasn’t having any of it. It was too wet. I made a cut and my free-flowing dough mixture filled up the hole again. I gave up. I put the baking trays into plastic bags and left them for twenty minutes.
I came back to this.
According to the recipe, the final step before baking was to spray the fougasse with olive oil and sprinkle them with oregano. I do have a spray bottle, but it’s dedicated to vinegar for cleaning the BBQ, so I drizzled and sprinkled, rather than sprayed. I put the fougasse into the oven at 200° fan and baked them for twenty minutes. When they came out, I brushed them with more olive oil and sprinkled them with salt. Here’s what they looked like.
They tasted dreadful. Hard on the outside, rubbery in the middle. Straight into the bin. I think I know where things went wrong, but any advice from any of the bakers out there would be really gratefully received. In the meantime, I shall take comfort in the botanicals I know and love best.